KANSAS CITY, MO. - The disruption and uncertainty of the past few months have required lawmakers to follow new timelines and develop new methods for conducting legislative business, said Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer for Arlington, Va.-based FMI — The Food Industry Association. 

“Unprecedented” is the word Hatcher said perhaps most appropriately describes the work both ahead and behind the organization on the legislative front.

Federal, state and local policymakers have also been extremely busy working to alleviate challenges caused by the pandemic, she said. The next series of legislative actions will likely be divided between recovery, relief and the traditional work of Congress, including funding the government. 

“As Congress discusses potential longer-term solutions to police reform, lawmakers are expected to compile an additional economic relief package to mitigate the fallout of the ongoing health crisis, which will focus on both recovery and relief solutions,” Hatcher said. 

When it comes to recovery, FMI members’ legislative priority is limited liability protections for COVID-19-related litigation for those industries that have followed the legally binding obligation. 

FMI members, Hatcher pointed out, have remained open and staffed through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, even as evolving conditions and guidance have forced the retail grocery industry to be resilient, adaptive and put modifications in place that could not have been planned for nor foreseen.  

“Congress is likely to consider provisions designed to provide additional financial relief to Americans that have been affected by the crisis,” Hatcher added. “There are ideas that range from additional cash payments for all Americans, to an increase in SNAP benefits, or utilizing the tax code to provide relief.”

One of the tax provisions FMI is raising in its advocacy efforts is focused on payroll tax relief for food industry associates employed in a store or distribution/manufacturing facility. This concept of a tax credit for associates employed in the sector is being championed in the House by the bipartisan team of Reps. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) and Dwight Evans (D-PA).  

The needs for food assistance are obviously very high, Hatcher added. 

“The food industry wants to make sure it’s easy for individuals and families new to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to buy the food they need to put meals on their tables.”  

To that end, FMI has launched a one-stop website, www.feedingassistance.com, where its members and consumers can access videos and infographics on how to apply for and shop with SNAP benefits. In addition to accessing federal feeding programs, the website includes links to recipes, meal planning and grocery trip planning resources for all shoppers.   

Finally, Hatcher said, election procedures are changing as the country moves through a variety of primaries, runoffs and general elections. FMI has a website to advise its members about election dates, polling locations and voting options such as absentee or mail in voting. 

“We have also changed the mechanism regarding how we offer political support to candidates through FMI’s FoodPAC – our political action committee,” she said. “Most of our fundraisers and conversations are conducted either via phone or Zoom.  While not as intimate as an in-person conversation, this venue is allowing FMI to engage members outside of the DC-area in discussions with Members of Congress, and that is an unanticipated benefit.” 

Health and wellbeing: legislative and regulatory perspectives

In its 2020 Power of Health and Well-Being in Food Retail report, FMI surveys the regulatory and legislative landscape, which, as the association puts it, “always seems to be in motion and frequently has an impact on health and well-being issues.”

Among the recent updates:

  • Nutrition Facts Label: The FDA will be exercising enforcement discretion by not focusing on enforcement actions for six months after the Nutrition Facts Label compliance date of January 1, 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales. During that period, the FDA said it will work with manufacturers to meet the new requirements. Major changes to the label include those related to serving size, calories, calories from fat, and added sugars.
  • Definition of healthy: FDA will issue an updated definition of “healthy,” possibly along with an icon for labeling purposes to denote healthy foods. The FDA also plans to re-evaluate the ingredient list on food packages to see what changes could make ingredient information more consumer-friendly, such as allowing “salt” rather than or in addition to “potassium chloride.”
  • Pharmacy and fees: FMI’s Speaks research further emphasized that pharmacy direct and indirect renumeration (DIR) fees have become a major retailer concern. These are having a significant negative impact on many of our member companies that operate pharmacies. The fees are collected retroactively from pharmacies by supply chain intermediaries (PBMs). FMI is focused on legislative and regulatory efforts to achieve DIR fee reform.
  • Food safety: The FDA will designate a list of high-risk foods, a requirement of the Food Safety Modernization Act, by September 8, 2020. It will also issue by the same date a proposed rule to establish recordkeeping requirements for food designated as high risk, with a final rule by November 7, 2022.

This story is from the July 2020 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. To view the full magazine, click here.